My Forty Years Scribblin's
Personal Memories
Fun Is Where You Find It

This piece was written in 1993 and published in the January-February 1994 issue of The Montana Journal. When you don't have toys, you make your own amusements.


Today's youngsters with eyes and ears glued to the television set and a bowl of junk food in their laps are no different deep down than the kids that I remember back through the years. They are looking for entertainment, just as we were when we made our own "play-pretties" out of anything at hand. Bean bags and "antee-yi-over" were great fair weather fun until the cupboard went bare, and Mom cooked up the contents. A rock-hard, dried mudball in the toe of a sock could burn up a lot of energy. The starter, getting a death grip on the stocking top, would wind up like a baseball pro about to let fly a homer. The first contender to reach the small comet, usually in a stubble field and barefoot, got the next turn, and so on.

"You be the horse, and I'll be the driver," was a short-lived diversion leaving the driver still fresh and disappointed after the horse had fizzled out and laid down on the job ending with one last violent runaway. Cowboys and Indians never became outmoded nor did swimming, fishing, skating, and sleigh riding. Stick horses wore out a lot of kitchen brooms and, while the steed rested, a boy could make a slingshot or a whistle out of a willow, or whittle a toy gun from a kindling stick. Fox and Geese, Run Sheep Run, and mudpies were perpetually amusing, and at our small cabin someone had blocked out a checker board on the end of an apple box. We played it with red and white beans. It was just as much fun as playing on today's embossed commercial boards.

Small mothers bestowed a lot of love on a stocking doll stuffed with rags and tied around the neck with a string. It seemed there was always a spare diaper at our house in which to wrap the makeshift baby. Big husky grasshoppers wrapped in mullein leaves made great playthings. We could poke them in the mouth, whereupon they would spit "tobacco juice."

And, what we could do with a piece of string! We made spool wagons. We fastened strings to half a walnut shell for make-believe mice and held "mouse races" all over the kitchen table. We tied old fashioned clothes pins together to make trains or a parade of soldiers. An aunt who raised me told of having been banished to the cellar as punishment, but the plan backfired because there was enough light from the roof vent for her to capture the lizards hiding there and harness them up for horses with strings from the potato sacks. My favorite string trick got me into trouble. Poke the ends of a three-foot string through the eyes of a large button, and tie the ends together. Position the button in the center, and twirl with one hand until the string is tightly wound. Then gently pull both ends, and the button will whirl and sing a little tune. I gave way to temptation and let my button get too close to my cousin's head. Her resulting screams brought her mother running and required a pair of scissors to get the hopelessly tangled contraption out of her hair. The resulting howls from a few good whacks on the seat of my flour sack scanties were partly from guilt, but it helped me remember ever after to keep my "buzz button" at a safe distance.

As boys grew more proficient at building, they fabricated carts from two small wheels and an axle that supported an apple box. My nephew owned such a vehicle, but it lacked a tongue so he harnessed his dog, Cappy, and taught him to pull the thing.

Trouble was Cappy didn't know how to "Whoa!" A neighbor's dog riding the running board of his owner's Model T passed by, and Cappy bolted in hot pursuit, the wagon followed bouncing along behind, one wheel hitting the ground now and then. Down through the barrow pit they went, across the road, down through the other barrow pit and on to tangle with a barbed wire fence. The wagon box caught on the bottom wire, and Cappy lay upside down and kicking. When the dog had wriggled out of his harness, the object of his enmity was out of sight, and the chariot was in need of major repairs.

Each year's "wish book," or mail-order catalogue, was literally looked to pieces before the new edition came in.

Dinner (supper at our house) was early, so we had our snacks at bedtime. Potato slices cut 1/8-inch thick were laid on the wood cookstove to brown. When brown and blistered on one side, they were turned over and salted. Eaten hot, we thought they were a treat, but I refrained from teaching my kids the potato trick because it left the stove an unholy mess that had to burn off. A bowl of bread and milk, bread spread with sour cream and sugar, or seldom, a piece of pie, was something to go to bed on.

Girls were inclined to daydream, and if some of my schoolmates came up with something new, I would counter with, "My dad's going to bring me a dress with blue roses on it," my favorite fantasy.

As we grew old enough to see boys in a favorable light, we mutilated a lot of daisies, "Loves me—loves me not." Eventually, as flappers infiltrated our isolated villages, we rolled our stockings and borrowed the boys' armbands to hold them up—when our folks weren't around.

Well, I'm still waiting for the dress with blue roses, although it lost its importance many, many years ago. But it is nice to remember the small pleasures, the fights over the empty match box, the new dish that would be found in the oatmeal package, the first pullet egg, the prize that came in the occasional Cracker Jack box, the stick candy with a gorgeous ring, and the tiny stars on a new plug of chewing tobacco.

My grandchildren would say that we were deprived, which leaves me wondering: whose generation is the loser—theirs or ours?